Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Future of Education is I.F.F.Y.?

“The future of education is I.F.F.Y. - informal, friends, family and centered on you” -Dale Dougherty

Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but typically serve as a gathering place where people have access to various tools, interesting projects and even mentors.  While the exact components of a makerspace may vary, they are all learning environments that are rich with possibilities.  The Makerspace hosted by EdSurge at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas was no different.  During this four day conference, people were demonstrating 3D printing, robotics, fablabs, and design thinking around the perimeter of the room.   In the center of the room, there were tables with legos.  The space was incredibly creative which encouraged you to linger and learn, both from the exhibitors and from other individuals.  The development of the space itself contributed to the likelihood that you would connect with a wide range of people including educators, software designers, and policy makers, all passionate about rethinking education.

One of the most exciting tools being demonstrated in this space was Tynker, a creative computer programming platform designed to teach children programming skills in a fun and imaginative way.  Tynker has been developed by a local bay area company (three of the founding members are Los Altos School District parents) and is being used in our Grade 6 CSTEM class, taught by Sheena Vaidyanathan. We are encouraged by the success of Tynker in LASD schools. Students are enjoying learning how to code and creating very imaginative products in the process.  We hope to continue our partnership with Tynker and look forward to discussing how to expand the use of their platform beyond Grade 6.  We were most impressed to discover the backs of their business cards featuring unique student creations, many of which were designed by Los Altos students using Tynker.
Also featured in the Makerspace was Karl Wendt from Khan Academy who was there showcasing his newly designed robotics projects: Itsy, Bitsy, Spider, and Spout.   We have enjoyed collaborating with Karl and are proud to have Los Altos School District involved in helping to refine his online tools for teacher implementation of both the Spout and Spider bot projects. This project is an extension of our collaborative relationship with Khan Academy formed in 2010 when we piloted their free online math software and created blended learning environments.

Prototypes from Mt. Vernon School
Mt. Vernon School from Atlanta, Georgia, was well represented in the Makerspace and shared their amazing work from their i.Design Lab.  Mary Cantwell has worked hard to bring design thinking into K-4 classrooms and developed a unique design thinking process called D.E.E.P. (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce). Throughout this process students look at real world issues and create solutions, always keeping in mind their user’s needs. With an emphasis on empathy and imagination, Mt. Vernon’s students and teachers are paving the way to innovative learning in schools.

Alyssa Gallagher, Dale Dougherty,
Kami Thordarson in Makerspace, SXSWedu
It was interesting to listen to Dale Dougherty, founder of the Maker movement, talk about the importance of hands on learning in all content areas. Dale is a proponent of bringing the maker movement to schools because the act of doing elevates the learning of all students. His recommendation is to create a makerspace that is really an interdisciplinary space where teachers from all content areas can work with students to increase their creative output. To be most effective, this type of learning must be integrated into the curriculum and not left as an after school enrichment activity. It is about a fundamental transformation of the school day, not just squeezing in a "maker activity." As we develop more hands on learning projects, we need be conscious that we aren't having students replicate the same work from one grade level to the next. We can avoid this by giving students choice in what they are making.

Edsurge hosted the Makerspace, creating a truly exciting space for learning and networking. Stopping by for a short creative brain break led to a mixed conversation at a table with Nikhil Goyal, a 17 year old author,  Kirsten Bailey from Hootsuite, and Leonard Medlock from Edsurge. It was lively debate around higher education and the direction needed to create true reform in education.   

As we leave SxSWedu we are inspired to think more about creating these dynamic learning spaces for both our teachers and our students. Our first attempt at creating a dynamic learning space for teachers is an awesome start, but as we move forward, we need to create the same environments and opportunities for our students.

Contributed by: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach & Alyssa Gallagher, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction


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